Today the world is celebrating Earth Day, and with it comes a barrage of new policies and commitments from the Biden administration.
The long awaited US climate targets were released this morning ahead of the US Climate Leaders Summit. Biden has promised that the United States will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2023. This ambitious goal will be unachievable without massive changes in our economy and, really, in the American way of life.
Some highlights from the White House statement:
The United States is not waiting, the costs of delays are too high, and our nation is determined to act now. Climate change poses an existential threat, but responding to this threat offers an opportunity to support well-paying union jobs, strengthen American work communities, protect public health, and advance environmental justice. Creating jobs and tackling climate change go hand in hand – empowering the United States to build more resilient infrastructure, expand access to clean air and clean water, boost American technological innovations and creating well-paying union jobs along the way.
Maybe this is just my own pet peeve, but it seems that when it comes to their climate plans, the Biden administration is unable to mention the word ‘jobs’ without attaching ‘well paid’ and ‘union’ at the word. Didn’t the grammar teachers of these people tell them that you have to use a variety of languages when writing or giving speeches?
I’m mostly kidding, but this language is clearly intentional and seems to go back to a time when unionized jobs were the way to reach the middle class. This may still be the case for some, but many others have learned to value and appreciate more flexible working styles, without being weighed down by union dues or responsibilities.
The press release continues:
Building on and building on this foundation, America’s 2030 target accelerates the pace of U.S. emissions reductions, from historic levels, while supporting President Biden’s current goals of creating a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035 and a net zero-emission economy by 2050 at the latest.
While the United States has made significant strides in cleaning up our energy sources and being a leader in reducing emissions, the outsized ambition of these goals should blow your mind. To even get closer to these goals, the US economy needs to undergo a facelift like never before. If you’re frustrated and appalled (like me) that the Home Office is extending its freeze on new gas and oil leases until the end of June, do the opposite of what Biden promised on the election campaign, just imagine the changes that need to be made to have a zero carbon electricity sector by 2035, not to mention the net zero emissions in our economy just 15 years later.
To take a step back, renewable energy sources currently only represent a fraction of our electricity production:
Hydroelectricity produces about 6.3 percent American electricity. Although hydroelectric generation may be increased slightly, it relies heavily on sites with sufficient drop and these only occur in certain areas of the United States.
Solar energy is also growing, but it still generates only 2.53 percent of American electricity.
I’ve written more about these energy sources and new energy innovations in recent years in this policy direction, but what you need to know is that relying solely on these energy sources is unrealistic and irresponsible. To imagine that we could have carbon-free electricity in just 14 years, when renewables represent only 16% of our total electricity production is a beautiful dream, but needs to be rethought in terms of policy.
I have to give the Biden administration a concession: the press release mentions the modernization of power plants with carbon capture and the use of nuclear energy. Carbon capture and storage is a technology that allows us to take carbon emissions directly from the air and can be used quite effectively to reduce emissions in industrial facilities. Nuclear power is truly the only reliable source of carbon-free energy, but even that only makes 20 percent of our electricity production and without developing and building new nuclear power plants (the White House statement expressly mentions existing nuclear), even getting closer to new climate commitments will be unachievable.
While the Biden administration may dream big, the reality is that adopting policies to achieve its goals will come at high costs to the American people. Not only will our energy become much more expensive, making it unaffordable for many Americans, it will become unreliable as renewable energy is intermittent and our battery storage capacities need to improve significantly in order to overcome this problem.